Hillel Gross’ Response to the Beginners at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the LSS Beginners Service (Feb 23, 1986)

To see a video of the live performance of this speech, click here!

I am here tonight on what I fear is a totally vain effort to restore some perspective to this orgy of self-congratulations that you have staged for yourselves this evening. Because I think that somehow it’s important that you beginners, B.T.s, leave tonight with at least a sense of how we, the F.F.B.s, as you call us, the frum-from-births, the “lifers,”day-by-day Lincoln Square everyday congregants, feel about you–we don’t like you!! And if you’ll just indulge me for two to three minutes, I will tell you why it is that we don’t like you–aside from the fact that you won’t talk to us during davening!

For ten years now, you have been coming to my house on Shabbasim and Yomim Tovim; just this once try to see it from my perspective. I am what the sociologists and the demographics experts would call the “tired Jewish businessman.” My fantasy of the ideal Friday night is to daven as fast as I can, eat as fast as I can, jump under the covers, assume a pre-fetal position, and conk out until Shacharis.

So, I come to shul Friday night and invariably Rabbi Buchwald approaches and says: would I mind taking three or four of his beginners home for Shabbat dinner? Since Rabbi Buchwald insists on posing this question in front of the people involved, it makes it very difficult to say no! Fine, I’ll take them.

Introductions are made and we begin to make our way home. Invariably, one of you will screech, “Wait!! Don’t go on Broadway–that’s the goyish way, go through Lincoln Towers, that’s the Shabbos way.” Fine, Lincoln Towers.

We get home, and again one of you is screeching, “Stop!! Don’t go in the elevator. Take the stairs, like Effie does.” Effie lives on the third floor! . . . Ten flights later, we arrive home… breathlessly, introductions are made and we take our places around the Shabbat table. You want to sing Shalom Aleichem–each verse three times, because it says so in the siddur. Fine, Shalom Aleichem three times. Then, you want Ayshes Chayil read in English–because it’s more meaningful. Fine. Then one of you has a question — “We just made kiddush in shul, why are we making kiddush a second time?” Well, to paraphrase Renee Leicht, “How the hell do I know why we’re making kiddush a second time?” After kiddush, one of you decides you’d like to make your own kiddush, because you forgot to ask me before my kiddush if I had you in mind. Fine, make your own kiddush–at the rate of three Hebrew words a minute!

Then, after washing, we sit down, and during the course of conversation, usually mine, one of you will interrupt with undeniable sincerity and politeness and say: “Excuse me, but isn’t what you’re saying Loshon Hara?” Yeah, I suppose you could say it’s Loshon Hara. Fine, no more Loshon Hara! Then you want to sing Zmiros, the ones with eight verses–all of them! Fine. Then you want to do D’var Torahs; every D’var Torah you ever heard up there you want to do. Fine. Then you want to bentch, singing each verse, “cause that’s the way Effie does it.”

Fine. At this point, I bleary-eyed excuse myself and again, with unfailing politeness you say, “Thank you for having us, we’d love to come back next Shabbos!!” You’ll be back next Shabbos all right, over . . . .

But you see, it’s not that we dislike you, Chas V’shalom (G-d forbid), it’s that you make us uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable because after 20-30-40 years of saying Shemoneh Esrei three times a day, when we’re with you we sense that perhaps our Shemoneh Esrei has become flat, routine, mechanical, while yours is vital and exuberant. We’re uncomfortable because in the solitude of our souls we ask ourselves (and don’t believe for a second that we don’t ask ourselves), we ask ourselves if we could do in our 20′s and 30′s and 40′s what you’ve done. Could we uproot the habits of a lifetime, the occupations, change our jobs if necessary, confuse our friends, antagonize our families, just to commit ourselves to our Judaism? And if we articulate this question, few of us dare to answer it.

So, I suppose in the last analysis, we’re uncomfortable because you practice what we preach. By your enthusiasm, by your embrace of everything that’s Jewish, you challenge us. By your insatiable thirst for knowledge, you provoke us. And by your open-hearted love affair with Judaism and everything about it, you ultimately shame us.

We pray that under the inspired leadership of Rabbi Buchwald you will continue to shame us, to provoke us, to challenge us, to lead us, until the coming of the Redeemer, Moshiach, speedily in our days,

Amen.

Copyright 2006 National Jewish Outreach Program www.njop.org